For centuries we have dreamt of jetting off into the stars to explore the vast unknown that is space. As long as we have gazed up at the solar system and galaxies, we have imagined visiting these far-off celestial bodies and seeing if life exists elsewhere in the universe. Space exploration continues to evolve and in the last 70 years, mankind has made some truly monumental leaps to uncover the secrets of life outside our own planet. This article provides a brief history of space exploration, from the first successful orbital launch, through to current projects such as the Mars Rover expeditions.

Sputnik 1 – The first successful orbital launch 1957

During the early stages of the space race, we were primarily concerned with orbiting the earth and creating a craft capable of traveling into space. In 1957, Russia actually achieved the first successful orbital launch with Sputnik 1 which is said to have orbited the earth at a distance of 250km.

Explorer 1 – USA follows suit with their own launch in 1958

Once Russia had unveiled to the world their space capabilities, the USA had to follow suit (this was the height of the Cold War) and successfully launched their own shuttle – Explorer 1 in 1958. This spacecraft actually made it into orbit and remained there until 1970.

Vostok 1 – The First human space flight 1961

As the space race continued to intensify, attention turned towards putting a human in space. Again it was the Russian who first succeeded as Yuri Gagarin made the first human orbit around the world in the spacecraft Vostok 1. This was a significant leap forward and was the start of human spaceflight.

Luna 9 – First automated landing on another planet 1966

Attention now turned towards actually landing on another planet with the eventual idea of landing a human on another celestial body too. The Luna 9 spacecraft made the first-ever soft landing on the Moon in 1966 and was the first thing to transmit data from another planet back to earth.

Apollo 11 – First crew landing on another planet 1969

The Luna 9 mission paved the way for further exploration of the Moon, and in 1969, the United States of America successfully landed two humans on the planet’s surface – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. This was a monumental turning point in the space race and one of the greatest feats that mankind has achieved.

Mars Rover – an Automated exploration of Mars 2011

After Apollo 11 there were several other moon landings, but attention turned to further afield. Space programs now aimed to explore other planets and the wider galaxy. The Mars Rover missions, for example, have been using automated robots to explore and photograph the surface of Mars with the latest missions embarking in 2011.

In recent years, deep space exploration has been the main point of concentration and we are developing advanced satellites and shuttles that can travel greater distances to explore the Milky Way and beyond. There is even talk of private companies looking to create space exploration missions – the future certainly looks interesting!